MLB Fantasy Preview 2013: Top Outfielders Overvalued This Year
When we talk about "positional scarcity", it's usually in reference to a catcher, second baseman, or shortstop being taken earlier since the position doesn't have depth. But there's a flipside to that equation. Why, by Odin's beard, would you ever dream about taking an outfielder other than Braun or Trout in the first round?
According to current average draft position, six outfielders are going in the top 10. 13 outfielders are going in the top 25. I know that they're getting the best stats, but when you can get similar stats later, why not maximize your roster and wait?
That's what we're all about: maximizing your roster. And that's why most of the outfielders in our top ten should be taken much lower than their average draft position. With the conspicuous exception of the top guys (Braun and Trout) and Josh Hamilton, you should be thinking about outfielders much later than you actually are.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before we get into the meat of the top ten list, I asked Chief Analyst Keith Goldner to break down the rankings and exactly what you should know about these numbers.
1. What type of scoring is this list based on?
The rankings are based on a category 12-team league. Categories are 5x5: SB, HR, Runs, RBI, Avg and W, K, SV, ERA, WHIP.
2. What exactly does the nF score measure, and how does that help my fantasy team?
The numberFire score takes a player's contributions across all categories versus a replacement level player that you could find on free agents. After summing the total contribution, each player's rating is then adjusted for his position eligibility based on the value of each position throughout the league due to position scarcity. For example, a catcher and outfielder with the same numbers will rank the catcher as the higher player due to the fact that it is a weak position.
3. Position scarcity? But the top catcher is at No. 47 and the top shortstop at No. 35! Should I really wait that long to grab those positions?
Simply put, yes.
4. Where do the projections come from, and why should I trust them more than anyone else?
The projections come from the same place that all our projections come from. First, we evaluate all players and teams using our advanced metrics. Then, we find the most comparable players playing on the most comparable teams historically, weighting each comparison according to that similarity. We then take those comparable players' historical stat lines as the building blocks for the projections.
With that out of the way, let's get to the list.
Top Ten Outfielders for 2013
1. Ryan Braun - Milwaukee Brewers
Stat to Know: Walk Percentage
You know about the home runs; he hit them on 6.1 percent of his plate appearances last season. You know about the stolen bases; he's swiped a bag on over 80 percent of his attempts three years running now. What intrigues me, though, is how his eye seems to be getting better and better as the years move on. Braun's walk percentage has increased every single one of his seasons in the majors, from a poor 5.9 percent of plate appearances in 2007 to 9.2 percent of plate appearances last year. More walks means more chances on base, which in turn means more stolen bases and runs. You can't go wrong with his increasingly-trained eye.
When to Take Him: First Overall
Don't overthink the whole Miami steroids angle. This is a guy who has been consistent over each of his past six seasons; those numbers aren't going anywhere any time soon. And even if for some reason the power numbers magically vanished away because of a few court hearings, his 30+ steals, roughly 20 percent line drive rate on balls in play, and .391 on-base percentage aren't going anywhere any time soon.
2. Mike Trout - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Stat to Know: Percentage of Fly Balls that Go for Home Runs
It's the immediate question: how much of last season was a fluke? Well, the steals really can't be; he'll maintain that speed. He really didn't hit that many line drives - only 19 percent of his balls in play - so it's hard to see his average decreasing that much. His 6.7 RBIs per at-bat is poised to become stronger with all the firepower in the Angels lineup. His on-base percentage was extremely high, but that's a function of making contact: only 13 percent of his strikes were on missed balls while swinging. No, the only thing that could really go wrong for Trout is a decrease in home runs.
However, we don't see that decrease happening. 14.5 percent of Mike Trout's fly balls went for home runs last season, an absolutely absurd number for a rookie. We've seen fluke home run seasons as a percentage of fly balls (Adrian Beltre's 17 percent from 2004 comes to mind), but those percentages don't come at the beginning of a career. It's easy: don't consider it a fluke unless there's evidence to go against it. Considering Trout's limited time in 2011 produced a 10+ percent rate as well, I don't think fluke is applicable.
When to Take Him: Top Four
Should number three be Pujols or Trout? Well that depends: are you high on a first baseman like Paul Konerko do you think could still give you value later? Then take Trout. Want to solidify the first base position and worry about outfielders later? Then take Pujols. Our metrics have the two players rated extremely similarly - Pujols has Trout beat by only 0.06 nF score. You really can't go wrong taking him three or four (with Braun and Cabrera an established top two).
3. Matt Kemp - Los Angeles Dodgers
Stat to Know: Stolen Base Percentage
I think most people are assuming Matt Kemp can be a Mike Trout-type presence, a 30-30 guy who can provide both power and stolen base prowess. Umm, have most people looked at Kemp's stolen base record other than 2011? Kemp may have stolen 40 bases in 2011, but that year seems like an outlier in light of his career 74 percent stolen base rate. Three of his six seasons with 300 plate appearances, including last year, saw him steal less than 70 percent of attempted stolen bases.
Perhaps this would also be a good time to mention that the Dodgers are running him less as well. He had 145 opportunities last season while on first or second with the next base open. The Dodgers sent him exactly 13 times, or less than 10 percent of opportunities. He only stole nine of them. I'm not sold on this 30-30 talk.
When to Take Him: Second Round
And now we begin with the overvaluing. Is Kemp good? Sure, but so is Joey Votto, Robinson Cano, and Edwin Encarnacion. All three of those players give you the same value as Kemp: 30-ish homers, a .300 batting average, and maybe a stolen base here or there. And, by the way, all three of those players are at a position that doesn't have six guys in the top ten of average draft position. Mike Trout Version 1.0 he is not.
4. Josh Hamilton - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Stat to Know: Percentage of Fly Balls of Home Runs
When I look at Hamilton's projection, those 37 home runs stand out like a flashing Vegas neon light (I feel like Hamilton should stay away from Vegas neon lights...). Sure, the man hit 43 round-trippers last season, but he had never before hit more than 32 in a season before last year. However, the combination of 638 projected plate appearances (which would be his most since 2008) and his increase in home runs as a percentage of fly balls last year should see that increase.
A whopping 18.8 percent of Hamilton's fly balls flew out of the park for home runs, a number that will be tough to hit again. However, with the exception of the outlier 2009, his average had hung around 11 to 15 percent of fly balls his entire career. The 20 percent increase in projected plate appearances and the expected 11 to 15 percent of his fly balls going for home runs makes this projection not only make sense, but likely (as long as he stays healthy).
When to Take Him: Late Second to Early Third Round
One of the few properly valued outfielders, Josh Hamilton is for some reason being forgotten and relegated as a third-tier outfielder behind Kemp, Gonzalez, Bautista, and, for some odd reason, Justin Upton. That makes him an absolute steal in most formats; his home runs are tied for the highest on our projections, and his RBIs are only three behind Miguel Cabrera's lead. While he may not contribute as much in the other three hitting categories as other outfielders, his value in those two specific stats is unparalleled.
5. Carlos Gonzalez - Colorado Rockies
Stat to Know: Home Run Percentage
Those 34 dingers in 2010 look pretty, but as the years move on, it's looking less likely that Cargo will return to that figure. Gonzalez hit homers on 5.4 percent of his plate appearances that season, representing 14.0 percent of all fly balls he hit. Just one year later, Gonzalez hit home runs on 4.8 percent of his plate appearances, well within the margin of error to assume his 2010 rate could be legit. Curiously, however, that 4.8 percent represented 15.4 percent of his fly balls, a higher ratio than 2011. Simply put: Gonzalez didn't hit as many fly balls. His line drive rate also dropped, but he made up the different in walks: 2.6 percent higher than 2010.
2012 saw him shift to even more of a patient, not big swinging slugger. His walk percentage increased to 9.7 percent, but his home run rate fell all the way to 3.8 percent. This one's a cause for concern. While we have his home run rate close to the middle between 5.4 and 3.8 percent, but those power slugging days may be gone.
When to Take Him: Late Second to Early Third Round
If his power is down, then how much is truly left to take advantage of? His average isn't bad, but expecting his .336 BA from 2010 is completely unrealistic. His roughly 20 steals are nice, but it's not a number that makes me jump over the Rockies for joy. Those runs and RBIs aren't going to win me a league, either. With my first round pick, I want a difference maker, not a guy who puts up a bunch of solid, but not spectacular, numbers. You can wait.
6. Andrew McCutchen - Pittsburgh Pirates
Stat to Know: Line Drive Percentage
I considered titling this section "Just throw out 2012", because seemingly every single stat across the board has outlier written all over it. A career-worst stolen base percentage? His worst strikeout rate and walk rate of his career? Making contact on the lowest amount of strikes (76 percent) than any season in his career? I think I'm getting physically ill to think of how this was apparently his breakout season.
The most interesting stats to me, though, are the two that actually jumped with little explanation: home run rate and line drive percentage. Somehow between 2011 and 2012, Andrew McCutchen got his fly balls to travel just a bit further: his percentage of fly balls hit for home runs jumped from 9.2 to 13.2 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of his balls hit for line drives (which are more often base hits) jumped from 18 percent his first three seasons to 21 percent last year. That explains his great numbers, but it also explains why we think he'll regress. Keeping up those one-season increases is hard.
When to Take Him: Third Round
No, he won't be there, but I'm really just trying to save you from yourself. Similar to Gonzalez, there is very little to suggest that he will be able to reclaim the numbers from his outlier year, even if his outlier year was just a few months ago. Yes, the way his numbers jumped could indicate a dramatic increase in ability. However, those dramatic increases rarely happen in baseball. And I'm not going to risk my middle of the first round pick to find out.
7. Jose Bautista - Toronto Blue Jays
Stat to Know: Home Run Rate
Bautista simply came out of nowhere to hit 54 home runs in 2010, but looking at the pure numbers, it would seem that he's slowly falling off. 54 then 43 then 27 round-trippers; that's not the right direction to be heading. However, looking at home runs as a function of plate appearances is a bit more telling.
Yes, Bautista had a bit of an outlier season in 2010; 7.9 percent of his plate appearances went for home runs. He didn't fall off that badly in 2011 though, only dropping to 6.6 percent. And because of the fewer plate appearances, Bautista was actually better at hitting home runs in 2012, at 6.8 percent of PAs. That power's not going away and likely sticking right around the 6.8 percent mark.
When to Take Him: Fourth Round
We're projecting for Bautista to have what would easily be the second-highest batting average of his career, with roughly the same home run rate, and he still falls about two and a half rounds behind his current ADP. Sometimes, things make no sense to me. This is one of them. With the strength of outfielders this season, I wouldn't want Bautista as the centerpiece of my team. Especially in batting average, he's just too volatile. The homers will be there, but the others stats may not be.
8. Matt Holliday - St. Louis Cardinals
Stat to Know: Home Run Percentage
If numberFire had a baseball consistency metric similar to our March Madness coverage for NCAA basketball teams, then Matt Holliday would have to be at the top. You know what you're getting at this point, and there is years upon years of data to support it. That's also why our overall ranking isn't too far off of his ADP: it's impossible to misinterpret what he's going to do.
That manifests itself most interestingly in home run percentage: it was 2007 in Colorado the last time Holliday didn't finish with a home run percentage between 3.6 and 4.3 percent of plate appearances. This season, that means a solid 28 home runs given a projected 618 plate appearances. Holliday, by the way, has hit 618 plate appearances in six of his past seven seasons, with 2011 (516 PA) as the exception. That consistency, man.
When to Take Him: Fifth Round
This is the point where our outfielder rankings turn from "Stars" to "Solid", but due to his consistency, Matt Holliday is easily the best of the solid guys. His stats aren't anything spectacular, but looking at the overall body of work, he'll pretty much give you what Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gonzalez will, minus the steals. I'll absolutely take that more than 40 average draft positions later.
9. Alex Gordon - Kansas City Royals
Stat to Know: Home Run Percentage
Something tells me "The Leap" wasn't supposed to involve a decrease of nine home runs and 15 RBIs despite having 31 more plate appearances last season. But luckily for fantasy owners picking him up this year (and keeper league guys who had him stick around), last year looks to be an outlier.
Especially in terms of power, Gordon performed much worse last season than ever before: his home run rate of 1.9 percent of plate appearances was 0.6 percent worse than his previous worst year. Taking out 2012, his home run rate has sat between 2.5 percent and 3.3 percent every year since 2007. It's reasonable to expect that it will get back there, and his batting average (.294+ each of past two years) will stick around as well.
When to Take Him: Fifth Round
If Matt Holliday is the consistency guy in the "solid" outfielders list, then Alex Gordon is the potential high-upside guy. There's always the risk that he could fall flat on his face and hit 14 home runs again, but the statistical odds are against that. Gordon loses a bit in power to Holliday, but he makes up for that with double-digit stolen base potential. Pick your favorite when deciding between the two: power and consistency, or speed and upside?
10. Adam Jones - Baltimore Orioles
Stat to Know: Percentage of Hits for Extra-Bases
All things considered, Jones has actually been pretty consistent in his career. His strikeout and walk rates are always about the same. His home run rate has steadily increased, but nothing out of the ordinary. His line drive percentage has stuck between 16 and 20 percent. His on-base percentage and batting average have been the same too. So how did Jones become an MVP candidate last season? Extra-base hits.
40 percent of Jones' hits went for extra-bases last season, an increase of seven percent over his previous high. Extra-base hits are a highly variable category, though, since it's tough to predict exactly what will be caught and what will fall in the gaps. Because of this, it's extremely likely that his extra-base hit percentage will return to the 30 percent mark that it had long held, and his run increase from last year (caused by being closer to home, duh) will fall in turn as well.
When to Take Him: Late Fifth to Early Sixth Round
I don't buy the third round hype on Jones. Yes his home run percentage has steadily increased, but in any given season, it is just as likely to regress to the mean as well. That's what we've predicted here: a slight knock on his power totals. Because he's only projected to hit less than 30 home runs, and his average is consistently worse than most of the guys above him on this list, it's hard to put Jones any higher.